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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Other People's Mail

Dr. Frank is into reading other people's mail.

That's a list found on a street somewhere by a friend of his. Frank's posted elsewhere about odd love letters and other things he's picked up off the streets. I'm afraid that I don't see the attraction of this. The primary obstacle, in my mind, is touching something that may have come from god knows who and been blowing around in a gutter somewhere. No thanks. The other obstacle is a reluctance to read other people's private thoughts, along with a general disinterest in them.

(The example in that post is funny and sad---it's a bride's "to do" list, which includes both reasonable things like "save money in joint account" and bizarre-oh things like "regularly scheduled staff meetings". The hell? She also places a great importance on looking really good for their First Dance. But the saddest thing of all is the item that makes up Frank's title: "Quarterly Review of Improvement Areas". Oh, honey.)

However, my distaste for this hobby is a bit strange considering that I collect postcards, and I collect them as much for what's on the back as what's on the front. Perhaps "collect" is a bit premature. A couple months ago Niles took me to a local stamp show, and I decided I would buy a couple postcards. I've always admired those sunny mid-century postcards (see, e.g. here), so I figured it was time to get some of my own.

Postcards are different from letters or notes found in the street. No one writes and mails a postcard thinking it will be private. If nothing else, the mailmen read them (in their copious free time).

A few months ago I picked up this postcard of Monsanto's "Adventure Thru Inner Space" at Tomorrowland in Disneyland. Look at the rest of the page for more info (Ride in the "Atomobile"!). Unfortunately the dealer didn't have the rest of the postcards.

But when I go looking for postcards, I'm searching for the perpetually-sunny 1950s. At the same time I got the Monsanto postcard, I got a standard-issue postcard of the New York skyline, taken on a sunny day (er, actually, it looks as if the skyline picture was cut out and pasted onto a sunny day, because there's a stark outline around the buildings). It's a postcard from United Airlines: "The aw-inspiring skyline of Manhattan Island. Only United Air Lines links New York with 80 cities from coast to coast and border to border." But what really made me buy it was the writing on the back. It's addressed to:

Wedding Showcase
The Price Is Right
P.O. Box 363
New York 46 NY

It starts out "Dear Sirs", but that's crossed out and only the name of the sender is written below it---a lady in Jacksonburg, West Virginia. (I'd tell you her name, but it's a very unusual one, and Google came up with her name and address in Jacksonburg.)

For you hermits, young whippersnappers, and furriners out there---the Price Is Right is a game show in which contestants are shown a bunch of merchandise and have to guess the price. Whoever gets closest without going over gets the goodies. Of course, when we watched it (starting in 1972) all the contestants were there in the studio, but this history of the show says that in the late '50s, there was a home game in which people mailed in bids. This card is postmarked June 20, 1957.

The lady from Jacksonburg was evidently new to the game, since she bid $1500. Everybody knows you don't bid a nice round number like that. She should have bid $1496. (No, "bid" does not mean you have to pay.) $1500 was a lot of bread back then. Wonder if that included a honeymoon.

I also wonder how this card entered the market. Did someone from The Price Is Right sell the cards after the prize had been won? Did they just dump them? When I was a kid, game shows and various other kinds of TV shows were always urging you to send a postcard in order to get some freebie or other. My sister and I wanted to, but my mother (wisely) wouldn't let us, most of the time. So it was cool to actually have a postcard someone had sent in.

On Sunday I picked up two unused postcards because of the Googie architecture of their subjects---one was a drawing of the Holiday Inn in Beaumont, Texas (seen today in its utilitarian modern form); the other was of the Lakeview Methodist Assembly (i.e., a church) in Palestine, Texas. The church has an A-frame wooden shake roof and slanted rock walls in front---not just a Googie church, but a sort of tiki Googie church. Has a kind of '70s feel to the picture. These two very different images were produced by the same company, so maybe that's how they ended up, unused, together.

I also found some nice, hand-tinted postcards that had been used and mailed. The first is of the Golden Gate Bridge, and is to a Mrs. Hall of Briggs, TX, from a SeaBee. The sender gives his address (you rarely see a return address on a postcard, and here I bought two on Sunday---but they were both from servicemen; maybe this is a requirement) as the 66th Naval Construction Battalion at an address in New York. But what was he doing in California? According to this page the 66th moved from the East Coast to Camp Parks (in Dublin, Cal., across the Bay and a bit inland from SF) in July of 1943. The card is postmarked July 12, 1943, the day before the 66th moved from Camp Parks to Hueneme, California. (That might mean Port Hueneme, which is near Oxnard, north of LA. From there they went on to the Aleutians and finally arrived in Okinawa in July of '45, where, for all I know, the sender of this card ran into my grandfather.)

He's not a scintillating correspondent, though. "Am enjoying the sunny California weather," is the only thing he writes. In San Francisco? Right. (Must be some sort of secret code.)

The next three cards are all to the same person---a Mrs. R. of Austin (it's kind of an unusual name, so I won't use it), who apparently had many friends who went places and sent her postcards. The first is from a family on vacation in Yosemite; they sent her this postcard (very small; it's called "Portal of Grandeur" here but now they call it the Tunnel View) on July 29, 1945. (You'd think not too many people would be taking their vacations while there was a war on, even if it was almost over. Wonder who they were.)

The next card is of a (rather garish) sunset in Reno, Nevada, sent June 12, 1950. It too is tinted (rather than a simple photo). That couple was going on from Reno to Yosemite the next day.

Finally, someone whose name is lost to history sent Mrs. R a set of postcards from "Florida's Gulf Coast Scenic Highway". There's a gatefold with 18 views printed front and back, attached to their own little envelope. It was sent in 1948, but the copyright on the packet says 1942. I feel like I'm cheating you here, describing it but not being able to show it (dammit, I'd hoped to have money for a real web site by now). I googled around, but didn't have a site that had them. The outside of the packet has "Florida" in big letters, and there's a Tampa big-letter card too. ("Big letters" are those big letters that have little scenes inside them. Like this one. Man, I love those babies. You know you've been somewhere when you pick up one of those. Somewhere like Marfa.)

The very last postcard is on glossy photo stock like a modern postcard, rather than the paper the others are printed on, but it too seems to have been tinted. If so, surely it's one of the last of the breed. It shows an exotic beach scene with an electric blue sky fading down through pink and yellow over a lime-colored bay. It's a scene of Nha Trang, in Vietnam, and comes from an American soldier. It's postmarked Sep 13, 1965.

This image, from this page, shows a perspective like the one in the postcard, except the postcard shows a local sailing boat, like the ones in the picture here.

The soldier---a Pvt. [suppressed] Bradley (or possibly Brodley, Broudley, or Broidley) writes to "Mom Taylor" at a retirement home in Los Angeles. He says he's taken a lot of pictures, and he knows she will enjoy seeing them. He also says, "This is quite an experience for me. I don't think I will forget it for a long time."

So, of course I got to wondering what about Pvt. Bradley's fate. All I know is that he doesn't seem to have ended up here.

There's a big postcard show in Houston toward the end of October. Assuming I'm still here leeching (a good bet), I look forward to buying more of other people's mail.